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Marine Environments Under Growing Pressure

Some of the world's top marine scientists gathered in Vienna for the IAEA Scientific Forum to discuss the pressures endangering marine environments and ways to tackle it. The Forum also highlighted the science conducted and coordinated by the IAEA that uses isotopic techniques to learn about these pressures, like ocean acidification, and their effects. (Photo: D. Calma, IAEA)

Experts from around the world gathered for the first day of the two-day Scientific Forum of the IAEA's 57th General Conference in Vienna, Austria, to discuss the pressing issue of ocean acidification, and nuclear applications for a sustainable marine environment.

In his opening remarks to the Scientific Forum, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano described the oceans as the cradle of life, supplying as much as half the oxygen we breathe and abundant food, while affecting the weather and supporting tourism, transport and trade. "Healthy seas and oceans matter to all of us," the Director General stated.

A committed advocate of marine preservation, Prince Albert II of Monaco emphasized in his video statement that "There is no peace without development, thus it is crucial to engage all stakeholders in protecting the oceans and in maintaining sustainable development."

"Often referred to as the 'evil twin' of climate change, ocean acidification is finally getting the attention it deserves," said José Badia, Monaco's Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Since the oceans are changing, Professor Bernard Bigot, Chairman of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, highlighted the need "to encourage individuals, international organizations, all stakeholders to work together to adopt measures. Simply, everyone is affected by these changes. Oceans acidification is a threat. Everyone is responsible for the environment and we should act together."

Many presenters called for immediate action to combat the problem, stating clearly and emphatically that the best approach would be to immediately begin the significant reduction of global CO2 emissions.

Vyacheslav Pershukov, Rosatom Deputy Director General and the Director of the Directorate for the Scientific and Technical Complex, said "Addressing oceans acidification is an integral part of tackling climate change issue and Russian government is supporting researches and technical studies."

The Ambassador for Climate Change and Small Island Developing State Issues, Ronald Jumeau of the Seychelles, termed ocean acidification as a threat and said "there is an urgent need to address climate change." Ambassador Jumeau explained that by preserving the marine environment, "we maintain 'our blue economy', which generates jobs, ensures stability and boost our economies." He urged all concerned to work together to overcome these challenges and establish a global network to address ocean acidification.

A powerful example of the international collaboration needed to understand ocean acidification and its impact is the cooperation between UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and the IAEA. In her video statement, UNESCO Assistant Director General and Executive Secretary of the IOC, Wendy Watson-Wright, commended the long-term partnership between the IOC and the IAEA, in particular the work undertaken jointly in scientific research to develop nuclear applications to address oceans acidification.

In his keynote presentation, Professor Frederic Briand, the Director General of the Mediterranean Science Commission based in Monaco, said that science is essential in analysing the planet's resources and in reaching solutions. He noted that the IAEA's laboratories effectively use nuclear techniques to monitor the state of the oceans.

While essential, "pure science isn't enough to prompt policymakers, governments and countries to act," said Raphaël Bille, Programme Director for Biodiversity and Adaptation at the French Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations. He called for an economic analysis of the effects of ocean acidification that focuses on the specific distribution of economic winners and losers in particular geographic locations. With this detailed information at hand, citizens and governments will be empowered to make informed decisions.

Sam Dupont, Coordinator of the Ocean Acidification Infrastructure Facility and researcher at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, also highlighted ocean acidification's dramatic impact on social-economic activities. That prospect underscores the need for people to become scientifically literate so they can decipher the science and make their own judgements.

Summarizing the purpose of the Scientific Forum as a means to "focus on the many peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology that contribute to human well-being," the Director General pointed out that the IAEA's Environmental Laboratories in Monaco utilize isotopic techniques to study global climate change, to monitor pressure on the marine environment and to combat ocean acidification.

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